Talking Heads were kicking into gear by 1979. Having added guitarist and keyboardist Jerry Harrison two years prior, the band were expanding past the bare bones punk-adjacent sound of their first two albums and incorporating more influences from funk, dance, and world beat. With their third album, Fear of Music, experimentalism and stream of conscious lyric writing became the band’s focus, spearheaded by producer Brian Eno.
Even though they were still reflecting the ever-evolving New York scene that was in solid transition between punk and new wave, the late ’70s also saw Talking Heads expand to foreign audiences. It was right before the band began recording Fear of Music that Talking Heads were filmed in their native New York for the UK television programme The South Bank Show for a set of interviews and performances.
The clip begins with a montage of small-town America accompanying More Songs About Buildings and Food‘s ‘The Big Country’. Live performances of Talking Heads ’77 tracks like ‘Psycho Killer’ and ‘Pulled Up’ also fill out the runtime, showing the band right as they’re about to expand their scope. David Byrne takes time to explain why he feels more comfortable scaling down his lyrical focus rather than going big.
“A lot of music on the radio seemed to deal with love and life in general in rather mythic terms,” Byrne observes. “Everything was happening on a grand scale. Every trip down the highway was some huge experience. But that’s a little bit out of proportion: people are really going to be disappointed. People get very emotional about these very mundane things. Grand events very rarely happen.”
Byrne is his famously detached and slightly awkward self. He also discusses where his lyrics are gravitating towards, preceding the embrace of “normal topics” that would fill out the tracks on Fear Of Music like ‘Air’, ‘Paper’, and ‘Drugs’. “I wanted to use things that were really just no more interesting than normal speech. No more dramatic, and yet somehow, in the song context, it might become more interesting.”
Check out the full documentary down below.